Monday, March 29, 2010

March madness

Seed starting that is. The last few weeks I've been starting lots of plants for the garden this year. So to get up to speed:

I've started all my first round of brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), lettuce, some leeks and onions, 9 varieties of tomato, 3 kinds of pepper, tomatillos, and eggplant. Outside, I sowed some spinach and arugula in my cold frame. The soil is getting closer every week to being workable, so in a few weeks I should be able to officially break ground and start planting seriously outside. I can't wait!

I built a new light rack for my seedlings this year. Really simple, just a 1x2 frame holding two 2-tube T-8 fixtures. I made it to so there was room for four standard size nursery flats under it, and so it fit on the laundry room counter.

In other news, I finally found some good manure! Craigslist ad lead to a very large pile of horse poo - a one time $5 loading fee and I was told I could come back as many times as I wanted. The manure is very good; no wood chips, just a little hay bedding mixed in, and it has been sitting since last summer, so it is fairly well composted. I took the oppurtunity to break down my compost pile and rebuild the unfinished portion with the addition of manure. Last year my pile did not heat up as well as I hoped, so this should help.

I'm getting another pickup load this week, which, if it's as broken down as the last load, I'll spread on the pasture garden to be plowed in a few weeks from now.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Late Winter Garden

We've had the warmest winter in a long time. Northwest Washington broke all kinds of records his year - highest average temperature in Jan for about the last 100 yrs, we're 2.5" short on rainfall for the last 3 months, and the number of days above 50 degrees for this time of year has never been greater - basically the weather has been awesome! Plants and trees around here have responded accordingly - spring bulbs are blooming a month early and fruit trees are weeks ahead of schedule. The vegetable garden has woken up as well.

Overwintered lettuce in the cold frame has starting growing again after going dormant during the coldest months. On sunny days, I have to remember to slide off the glass top to keep the lettuce from cooking, only to cover it at night to protect from near freezing temperatures.

Overwintered purple sprouting Broccoli has begun to push small heads - we'll be eating fresh broccoli soon! In the background a couple rows to the left, October planted garlic is already 8 inches tall.

The crimson clover cover crop has started to take off as well. In about 2 weeks I'll be cutting it down and turning it under to decompose for a few weeks before transplants start to go in.

The only thing I have to be careful of is getting ahead of myself. When it's 60 degrees out in February, it's really tempting to start planting seeds and turning over the soil, but the thing to remember about Washington weather is that a clear sunny day can easily turn into a few inches of snow overnight...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Winter studying

The cold winter months (or, on our case, the long, dark, rainy months), when there is not a whole lot to do in the garden, are a great time to tackle a few books. I read every night before I go to bed, and I've been working on two books this year.

I learned a lot about year-round vegetable growing from Eliot Coleman's "Four Season Harvest" when I read it last year, so this year I picked up another of his books, "The New Organic Grower".

Like his other title, this book is geared towards the more serious home gardener, market gardener, or small farm, and covers all the intricacies of a complete farm system, down the minuscule, but important, details. The most useful part of this book to me (so far) has been his recommendations for an 8-year crop rotation including green manure rotation. He lays out a time-tested system for vegetable rotation and cover crop sequence that will keep the ground covered for 95% of the year, either producing food or improving the soil and building fertility. I will be using this system starting this year.

The other book I have been working on is Gene Logsdon's "Small Scale Grain Raising".

Over past year I've become interested in trying to grow certain grains. I am a homebrewer, so barley is an obvious one to try, but oats, certain wheat varieties, sorghum, and rye (and others I am sure I will discover as I keep reading) can all be grown in our climate. A year's supply or more of any of these grains can be grown on as little as 1/16th of an acre each (that's roughly four 50' rows)! This year I will be trying sorghum in the summer, and probably will plant wheat and barley in the fall for overwintering.

I also finished up my garden review spreadsheet for last year's season, and am using it to plan this year's quantities to grow. Still some decisions to make on varieties and final layout, but soon I'll be starting seed again!